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Tennis Made Easy
Essential Strokes & Strategy for the Modern Game
By Kelly Gunterman
New Chapter PressCopyright © 2015 Kelly Gunterman
All rights reserved.
THERE HAS BEEN A LOT TALKED ABOUT, WRITTEN AND TAUGHT ABOUT HOW TO HOLD the tennis racquet when making a particular swing or shot. I'll put my spin on it, clarifying the advantages and disadvantages of each grip and how they influence your stroke and how the contact point must change to adapt to the grip you use. The way you grip the racquet should be what is most comfortable to you. You may want to make small adjustments in your swing to make your grip work better for you. I have found that making a change in your grip is challenging when you have played for a significant period of time.
There are four key forehand grips - each of which have specific pluses and minuses. It is important to understand each of them and how they affect spin and how the contact point must change with each grip. Especially with the forehand, your swing style is an important factor in determining how best to hold the racquet.
It is true, the proper grip is important but it is more important to have your grip fit the way you swing the racquet!
This grip is also called the hammer grip for the mere fact it is exactly the grip you would have on a hammer if you were to drive a nail. Just hold your racquet as if you were going to drive a nail with the edge of your racquet. The V formed between your thumb and first finger is located on the top of the handle of the racquet. This grip is used for serves, forehand and backhand volleys as well as overheads. It allows you to play all of these shots with the same grip. Though it may be used to hit a forehand, I don't recommend it as it is unreliable and difficult to hit with spin or pace. However, this grip makes hitting with underspin and very low balls much easier. It will also be the grip of choice when hitting drop shots.
Eastern Forehand Grip
This old standard grip was at one time called the handshake grip. Simply place the palm of your dominate hand on the face of the racquet and slide your hand down to the grip. The V of your hand, between the thumb and forefinger, moves one bevel to the right, from continental for right-hand players. This grip is comfortable and very versatile making it easy to change from the forehand grip to a one-handed backhand grip. The tendency here is to hit the ball flat with a lot of power making the shot harder to control. A disadvantage of this grip is that higher balls are harder to hit. It is not the best choice for hitting with extreme topspin.
Semi-Western Forehand Grip
From the eastern forehand grip, turn your hand one bevel of the grip farther under (or behind) the racquet for the semi-western grip. The V of your hand is on the side bevel of the handle. This is certainly the grip of choice for most players on the pro tour, allowing them to hit with power and topspin. Also, it is easier for high-bouncing balls and gives a higher margin of error over the net. As with all grips, the more extreme the turn, (the more to the right and underneath the handle you move your hand), you must hit the ball much more in front and higher. The disadvantage of this grip is the lower the ball, the more difficult the return. It can also make changing grips for the backhand a bit more difficult.
Western Forehand Grip
This grip is quite popular with clay court players to compensate for higher bouncing balls. The western forehand grip is one more bevel to the right from the semi-western. With this grip, the contact point is closer to the body and much, much earlier. Therefore you hit with extreme topspin but with some loss of power. Remember, as we add spin, we lose speed (but more on that later). High-bouncing balls are much easier to handle but lower balls are much more difficult. Also, changing your grip to the backhand side is a lot more difficult because you have to move the grip farther around the handle of the racquet. This grip is usually for clay court players and definitely not a grip to use while playing at the net!
The One-Handed Backhand Grip
You will want to find a grip that keeps the wrist in the strongest position with the face of the racquet perpendicular to the court at the point of impact. For right-handed players, the V on your hand moves to the left of continental one bevel. This positions your hand almost on top of the racquet. The proper grip allows you to turn the racquet face down or closed in the backswing allowing for the most topspin. Alternatively, you can open the face or turn the hitting face up in the backswing for more underspin. For most one-handed backhand strokes, this grip of choice allows for a quick and easy shift in grips while hitting a variety of spins. The major disadvantage of this grip is the high-bouncing ball to your backhand. Because topspin is difficult to hit, the slice backhand is a great alternative for balls that bounce above your shoulders. As with the forehand, some players take this to the extreme by moving the V of their hand to the back side of the racquet. Similar to the extreme forehand grip, high balls are easier but lower balls are more difficult to hit.
The Two-Handed Backhand Grip
The principal advantage of the two-handed backhand is that you do not have to change the grip of the dominate hand. Simply put the non-dominate hand on the racquet above the dominate hand; in essence you use two eastern forehand grips. Keep both hands together, so that the hands work as one unit. If you are right-handed, the left hand dominates, driving the racquet through the ball. This grip feels much stronger allowing you to hit the backhand with two hands instead of one. The security of having more strength at the point of contact makes it easier to hit, particularly for the novice player, sometimes easier than the forehand. The downside of this grip is your ability to reach balls hit by your opponent at angles wide to the side of the court. If you are more comfortable with two hands and you can hit 90 percent of the balls more easily, you can make a stab at the other 10 percent by reaching for the wide balls with one hand. This one-handed shot must be hit high and deep, buying yourself some time to get back in the point. Another bonus is the added stability of the second hand will allow most players the ability to hit a much stronger return of serve.CHAPTER 2
AS YOU PICK UP THIS BOOK AND START THE LEARNING PROCESS, YOU MAY WONDER why I started with the volleys rather than the more traditional groundstrokes. I have always felt that it is easier to learn simple skills first. When hit properly, the volleys are the simplest shots in the game. As we progress, we begin adding to our skills and exploring the more intricate parts of the game. Also, as we get older we may play more doubles if we're not already. With this information, you will have a leg up on your peers and you can develop as a doubles player.
Virtually everyone begins their tennis education by learning the groundstrokes from the baseline. This makes a great deal of sense since a player employs the forehand and backhand strokes from the baseline more than any other shot. Every player must establish a solid foundation as well as a certain amount of confidence before advancing to the more nuanced aspects of the game. All of us have found the net intimidating during our initial forays in its direction. However, with proper technique and practice anyone can feel comfortable at the net. Even if you are the most enthusiastic baseliner, coming to the net is exciting as well as a productive skill in our development as a tennis player.
When developing your skill at the net, the fundamental rule is to keep everything simple. The less you do with your body, feet and hands, the more effective your game. Remember that all you actually do is re-direct the ball that comes to you. Adopting the correct angle on your racquet face for a particular situation will ultimately result in the success of your shot. With a firm wrist and a little shoulder turn, the volleys are quite easy and a lot of fun. Do not let yourself be misled by Roger Federer or Serena Williams when they take a big swipe at a volley; they practice and play those shots many times on a given day. We mere mortals need to remember the mantra: "Keep It Simple".
When moving toward the net, avoid rushing. As John Wooden, the great basketball coach from UCLA, once said "move quickly but don't hurry." This adage applies to the entire tennis game but especially to the net game. Work your way in methodically and stop when your opponent hits the ball. A good rule of thumb is, when you have hit the ball and it is moving away from you, move in. Conversely, when your opponent hits the ball, stop, usually with a split step or check step. (We will have more on that later.) This maneuver allows you to keep your balance and to change direction cutting off your opponents shot.
This may sound a bit confusing but it isn't. Quite simply remind yourself that "less is more."
Fundamentals to Successful Volleys
* Stay off your heels and move forward to make contact with the ball. Staying up on the balls of your feet allows you to move to the tennis ball in an aggressive style of play. Try holding the racquet with a continental grip, discussed earlier. This will allow you to hit serves, forehand volleys, backhand volleys and overheads all without a grip change or just a minimal change.
* Think no shoulder turn. By moving your racquet to the ball, your body will turn enough. A big shoulder turn automatically puts the racquet too far back and results in a swinging volley or, even worse, hitting the ball well behind your body. If you have played tennis for a while, you probably learned to hit the groundstrokes first and to turn your shoulders. Now playing at the net, we must unlearn that move and progress directly to keeping the racquet in front of our body. It is okay to develop a bit more of a turn on the backhand, since you are reaching across your body with the racquet.
* Think catch. Imagine your partner throwing a ball to you and you catching the ball with your racquet hand. I'll bet you don't turn your shoulders to make the catch. Have your practice partner throw balls to you with some higher and some lower and see how your hand moves to adjust to the height of the ball. Now, with the racquet back in your hand, hit a few balls while thinking catch. This positions the racquet head for a successful volley.
* Adjust the racquet to the level of the ball. For low balls, drop the racquet head and open the face of the racquet. If the ball is high, keep the racquet head up through the shot.
* Squeeze the last three fingers on the grip of the racquet hand. This keeps the wrist very firm. We all have experienced the floppy wrist or slapping of the wrist to hit a volley.
* "Drive" the racquet through the point of impact. Try to avoid the old thinking of punching the ball. This to me implies hitting and pulling back. By pressing/driving through the ball, you keep the face of the racquet on the plane of the ball resulting in more control and more power.
* To feel more comfortable with the direction of your volleys, press the palm of your racquet hand at your target on the forehand volley and the knuckles of your hand at the target on the backhand volley. On the two-handed backhand volley, press the palm of your non-dominant hand toward the target. Keeping this in mind makes directional control of the volley simple and the recovery much quicker.
* After hitting your volley, move back to the ready position. On the balls of your feet, prepare for the next ball. Quick feet on the recovery add to your prowess at net. The faster you recover, the more quickly you will be ready for the next shot.
* Keep the volleys very simple. This is the most important aspect of learning to volley or becoming a better net player. Always keep in mind, less is more. The fewer moving parts there are, the less chance of a malfunction.
Remember: A good net player is always trying to be more aggressive. Moving in on the volleys opens up the angles of the court, giving you a lot of options for the direction of the shot. More on this later.
Myth Buster: Keep the racquet head above the wrist. This works only if the ball you hit is above your waist. Adjust the racquet head to be on the level of the ball. If the ball is hit low, you must lower the racquet to make solid contact with the ball.
Low Volleys: Let's get out of the old school thinking of keeping the racquet head above your hand. It just does not work on volleys below your knees. Let the racquet head drop; tilt the hitting face of the racquet open toward the sky. Keep your wrist very firm by squeezing the bottom three fingers of your hand on the grip. You do still have to bend your knees, not at the waist and get low for the ball.
High Volleys: Keep the racquet head up through the entire shot, as if you are closing a shower curtain. If you pull the racquet down as you come through, the ball will go in the net. Again, keep a firm wrist and keep your head up through the shot.
Volleys right at your body: Any ball that is hit directly at your body is difficult. Adjust by simply swinging your elbow out and hitting the shot with a backhand volley. Anyone who hits with a two-handed backhand volley may have some difficulty with this shot. It requires you to release the non-dominate hand and make the shot with one hand.
Half-Volleys: This is not a shot of choice but of necessity, usually a result of poor positioning or a tough shot by your opponent. If you are caught in no-man's land and the ball is hit toward your feet, don't panic! Stay low through the shot, shorten your backswing and keep a firm wrist by squeezing the grip with the bottom three fingers of your racquet hand. Direct the ball over the net with an abbreviated follow through. Your goal on this shot is to stay in the point and make your opponent hit one more ball while you have a chance to move in to a more aggressive part of the court. Think of making the transition from defense to offense.
Drop Volleys: Now we're getting somewhere! We are gaining confidence at the net and starting to develop some touch. The drop volley is the one exception when playing at the net where you will soften or loosen your grip when you make contact with the ball. This results in the face of the racquet rolling under the ball, imparting a great deal of underspin. Imagine hitting this shot so it will land on top of the net. With the backspin, the ball will stop short with little bounce.
Lob Volleys: This shot is exactly what it sounds like, a lob that is hit from a volley. Keep a firm wrist (which we have talked about), open the racquet face and make an exaggerated follow through up and through the shot, as if you were lifting the ball over your opponents head. Stopping the racquet will result in a short lob that can prove to be dangerous. This is especially effective when all four players are at the net in a doubles situation.CHAPTER 3
THE OVERHEAD SMASH IS FEARED BY BEGINNERS AND RELISHED BY ADVANCED players. What is the key to making this shot more satisfying for all levels of play? Position! Your position in relation to the approaching ball makes all the difference in this point-ending stroke. For most of us, the stroke is relatively easy but getting in the proper position to make the shot is the challenge, but also a necessity.
The Four Steps to a Great Overhead
1. Drop the right foot back for right-handed players to get the hips and shoulders sideways to the net. This allows you to slide or side step forward or back to be in position as if to catch the incoming ball with your non-racquet hand. If you are in position to catch the ball with your free hand, then you are in the proper position to hit an effective overhead. Avoid moving back facing the net, as it is easy to catch your heel and fall backwards. Furthermore, you won't be ready when you do get to the ball because you are not sideways.
2. Place your racquet hand next to your right ear for right-handed players. This prepares the racquet for the shot. Getting in this position early allows you to make subtle changes in the swing. By having the racquet in what has been called the "back scratch position" allows you to hit up and through the ball.
Excerpted from Tennis Made Easy by Kelly Gunterman. Copyright © 2015 Kelly Gunterman. Excerpted by permission of New Chapter Press.
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